The reforms have helped us to provide extra help for families with children, improve incentives to work, and make the system simpler and easier to understand. Reports from local offices in my Department indicate that the vast majority of cases were reassessed on time, and the new income support scheme is proving easier to administer. On the limited evidence available, the position in most local authorities appears to be similar. We have made it clear that we will continue to monitor the effects of the changes.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that reply. He mentioned the limited information available. I remind him of my prediction on 2 November 1987, at column 687, when I said that there would be hardship and asked for a report in 1988 on the effect of the legislation, bearing in mind that many of our constituents have lost out on housing benefit when they receive a fairly modest private pension. They have also lost out on certain Government training schemes. Therefore, will the Minister not carry out a limited survey, but come back to the House with the real results of the legislation?
As I said, we shall continue to monitor the situation carefully, but the Government reacted very quickly with the substantive changes that were announced on 27 April in areas that were causing clear hardship. 'The changes affect 8·5 million people, and overall they are settling in very successfully.
I am glad that my hon. Friend raised that point. The initial stages of the introduction of family credit meant that processing the claims took between five and six weeks on average. That has improved: 243,000 family credit claims are now in payment, 72,000 claims are pending, and the aim in future is to clear claims within 18 working days. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that a help desk facility has now been made available for local offices to contact the family credit unit in North Fylde with regard to those who complain of financial hardship while awaiting an award of family credit. My hon. Friend has raised an important point, and I am delighted to be able to make that announcement.
Can the Secretary of State explain why people on industrial injury benefit and invalidity benefit have suffered so severely under these changes? Cuts of £10, £20 and £25 a week have been made in their benefits through loss in housing benefit. What is the reason for that, and what is the Secretary of State doing about it?
I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the changes that were announced on 27 April, which took into account people above the income support level who had not had transitional protection. In most cases, the schemes to which the right hon. Gentleman is referring are discretionary ones implemented by local authorities. The changes have taken account of the points that the right hon. Gentleman has raised. Such people should be helped by the changes that were announced on 27 April.
In view of the time that it takes for people to receive family credit, does my right hon. Friend agree that local housing authorities should be patient and sensitive about rent arrears caused by an absence of family credit?
My hon. Friend has raised a constituency case with me, but he makes a good general point. Local authorities are required to take notional account of family credit. The five to six-week delay in processing at the start of the scheme has created some difficulties, but we have set up a central unit at North Fylde to assist local offices, and it should help considerably.
In his continued monitoring, will the Secretary of State take account of the fact that the rules, which allow only the offer of loans to the most desperate and destitute, simply add insult to injury? When his officers meet representatives of homeless organisations later this week, will he undertake urgently to review the balance between loans and grants?
No. We will look carefully, as we said we would, at the overall workings of the social fund. I hope that the detailed June figures will be available by the end of this week or the beginning of next week and placed in the Library, but it might be helpful for the hon. Lady and other Opposition Members to be reminded that loans generally are running at above 71 per cent. of the forecast profile and grants are running at about 32 per cent. In other words, the overall expenditure is about 59 per cent. of profile, which is nothing like the appalling suggestions that the Opposition made about the scheme. The overall figures are well within the cash forecast profile.
Does my right hon. Friend nevertheless accept that there are still many cases of genuine hardship? Will he assure the House that the monitoring will be careful? Will he examine most thoroughly the dossier of cases that I am sending him today involving some of my constituents?
I look with pleasure on the opportunity that I might have to help an hon. Member who, like Opposition Members, tries to help his constituents. I shall, of course, monitor the situation carefully. I remind the House, however, that 8·5 million people were affected by the most radical changes in social security for 40 years, and, overall, the changes have settled in extremly well.